Subaru WRX Review

Brendan McAleer
by Brendan McAleer
subaru wrx review

When the redesigned 2008 Impreza WRX made its New York debut, you could hear the collective creak from the upturned conks of the cognoscenti. What’s with the Camry clone? Somehow Subie thwacked a dart-full of its patented anti-fun serum into the styling of one of the world’s most “enigmatic” designs. But just how bad is the damage? Have Subaru’s efforts to re-brand the rockstar ‘Rex as a kinder, gentler, pop-idol created a yawnster? More importantly: is it possible to be a bad Subaru, but a good car?

Initial impressions: welcome to the new Subaru3. The good news is that the car may be less photogenic than Tara Reid, but in person it’s not too bad– even with those stainless-steel-horseshoe taillights and uni-brow grille. Sharp creases along either side work well here (as they’ve worked well elsewhere, hem-hem), though the front seems overly rounded in comparison. The truly elephantine hood scoop has the look of a just-about-to-sneeze 550 Maranello, but at least it’s well-integrated and less of a hack-a-hole-in-the-hood afterthought than previous years.

The bad news: whether four-door sedan or (better) five-door hatch, the playful nature of earlier WRXs is notably absent. Bugeye. Peanut-eye. Pignose. Impreza owners have always embraced their rides’ weird looks with affectionate disdain. Driving an ugly-ass Subaru was a chance to stand out from the pack, knowing all the while you had the goods underhood and underfoot.

The slick new model fails to distinguish itself from the motoring multitudes AND it looks like it was designed to adhere to some focus group’s idea of “sporty.” Still, the new WRX may have a touch of the old Subaru fungoid; it remains to be seen whether its looks will grow on its (former?) fans.

After you whack your head on the unexpected window frame, you enter a not-so-markedly improved cabin. The new dash offers reasonably subdued chrome accents and a flying-V design theme (an encore performance of the fallopian Tribeca). The materials boast higher quality than the old WRX’s “we-spent-the-budget-on-the-drivetrain” PVC wonderland. Fine-vision gauges with STI-style startup sweep and center-mounted tach complete the updated look.

The new Subie’s extended wheelbase means that rear leg-room is far less likely to induce DVT than the old model’s cramped quarters. A more compact suspension means a wider (if not overmuch larger) trunk. Once again, rear visibility takes a backseat to styling. On the positive side, the new front seats are wonderfully comfortable and supportive.

Well, vertically. When it comes to cornering, it’s a case of BYO-Bolsters. If your seatbelt’s not snug, an aggressive turn can easily catapult you into your passenger’s lap. I’d also happily sacrifice the new steering-wheel-mounted stereo controls for a Momo tiller. And the shifter is as vague as Miss Teen South Carolina, particularly when down-shifting from thirdish to secondish.

But why downshift? Subaru’s new 224 horse 2.5-liter mill lacks the pulsing sonic thrill you expect from a boxer engine, but it’s got porterhouse-sized servings of torque (226 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 rpm) with a side order of insta-boost. In nearly any gear, at nearly any rpm, it’s possible to walk on the throttle and watch the traction control flicker like an electric eel trying to stun a manatee. And that’s with AWD. I frequently found myself punching it in the middle of a corner just to see what would happen.

Sounds fun, right? Well, while the hugely available low-end grunt makes the ’08 WRX a traffic scalpel, mash the gas on a corner and it rolls like an improperly ballasted galleon. Grip is more than adequate for any sort of reasonable person, but g-force aficionados better get on the pre-order list for some aftermarket swaybars, STAT. And we’re not well pleased that VDC stability control is a $1500 option.

The WRX’s speed-sensing variable power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering remains quick and accurate, but provides less feedback and more insulation. As rough roads and gravel will still be a natural playground for those who dare to get their side-skirts dirty, the tiller’s tactility isn’t a huge issue. And while the soft, long-travel, four-wheel independent suspension (double wishbone at the back) may add to the new Impreza’s tippy cornering, it’s truly astounding at swallowing bumps. Speedbumps are to be scorned, potholes pitied.

Taken as a whole, Subaru hasn’t dropped the ball with its new WRX. They’ve just punted it onto a whole different playing field. While the old WRX had its own (numerous) shortcomings, it easily made up for them with puppy-dog enthusiasm and ever-present utility. The new model has all the modern charm of a robot dog. It’s not bad, by any means: more comfort, more space, more style (arguably) and more fuel economy. All of which makes it more easily justifiable to your comfort-loving significant-other. It’s just too bad that all these “mores” add up to less fun.

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  • Jerome10 Jerome10 on Oct 22, 2007

    Oh come on. Maybe its just we always hear from the WRX/Subaru fans on this thread, but I don't buy any of it. The original WRX I found TERRIBLE. The bug-eyes looked like crap. The 2.0L turbo was slow-as-beans from a stop with terrible turbo lag. The interior was absolutely atrocious. I never drove a STi or any of the updated ones (2.5L or the flying vag). No reason to. They were still ugly as hell and crude as can be. And complaining about window frames?! Jesus. Gimme a break. There's gotta be a good reason why everyone else uses them. So maybe I'm one of those new buyers they're looking for. I've been seriously contemplating a new GTI. Come to find last week my company gets supplier pricing on Subarus. Heard about the new WRX. Ok, I'll bite and give it a shot. The sedan looks like junk. But I find the hatch very nicely proportioned and solid looking. Not drop dead gorgeous, but a nice shape, with solid lines. Good enough, especially versus the chunky GTI. Took it out for a spin. Wow. Don't know what they did since 2002, but there's almost no lag, a good amount of midrange grunt too. Shifter is rubbery but fairly short. I'm not feeling a lot of buzzing on my butt. Car is solid and quiet on the freeway. Interior is still cheap, but at least acceptable now. Overall I really liked it. I turned in the 02 after about 5 minutes behind the wheel. HATED that car. Really my biggest gripes aren't with the styling or performace but rather trim and options. Interior is still a bit cheap with hard plastic, iffy cloth seats, and mousefur headliner. No xenon lights and no sunroof. None of which are a problem in the GTI. Plus the car takes 91 octane and is only rate 19/25, which even with the 2008 rating system really is not impressive at all. But what I did like was the steering feel, the clutch, the shifter, the highway ride while still feeling solid in the twisties, and the effortless torque in the midrange. And NO TORQUE STEER! I have a Miata now, and the more FWD I test drive, the more the torque steer bothers me. Very nice to have it gone in this one. Maybe the Miata has made me look for a nice blend of performance and comfort (much longer commutes now). The Miata was all the performance I wanted, and the WRX was pretty crude too, which didn't fit in that type of car. This new one is just about all right. Really torn between it and the GTI, but I can honestly say that I like both about the same, but for different reasons. To me that says a lot as I've been looking for a long time. I find the WRX better than the MINI, Mustang, Z, Acura TSX, Mazda3, and a whole slew of other cars I've driven. Not because it is the sportiest or most fun, but because it and the GTI have combined fun with civility, and don't look ridiculous (see Civic Si). With the driving I'm doing, on the freeway, in Chicago traffic, I just don't want hard-core any more. But it is still nice to take an onramp and get a grin. So I'm a convert. Hated that old WRX. Crude and crappy and ugly. Really really like this new one. Subaru has gotta be hoping there are 10 of me for every 5 current owners they pissed off. I'm just not about to rip this new one when they've fixed everything I hated about the old one.

  • Shortthrowsixspeed Shortthrowsixspeed on Dec 27, 2007

    Jerome10, i totally feel you on this one. as a "grown-ass man" i can't be seen in an STI or Evo, but i still want the ability to play a little when the urge arises. for me, the old WRXs didn't give enough in the comfort department to fit into any garages except those of the owner's parents or those with room for another more civilized vehicle. also, the price point couldn't be justified given the lack of basic amenities in favor of all out performance (a weird philosophy for a sedan and hatchback maker). so i've been looking for a "softer WRX." i know the hardcore enthusiasts are yelling that it's not ugly enough, too comfortable, too quiet, too smooth, etc. (my favorite is Redbarchetta's complaint that there's no "neck snapping lag"). in any other vehicle these would be great accomplishments, but packaged in a WRX they are severe faults? a good car is a good car. could this be better? yes. is it good? YES. add to this the fact that the powerband is wider and the curb weight is lower . . . you get the picture. i have not driven the new WRX yet, but i did get a chance to sit in it at the L.A. auto show. the seats were very comfortable and snug (i don't think i'd need more bolsters even though i'm a big fan of hard cornering). the cabin is upscale enough to not be a deal-breaker and has some nice new touches in the display. the exterior is better in person (i much prefer the sedan to the hatch). good wheel flares, nice lines, dual exhausts, the sport grill and aero trim are a must. finally, i understand why everyone is raving about the MS3. great car. but as Jerome10 mentions it's not for people that don't want torque steer or wheelspin issues. the car has too much torque to be a FWD car. it gets great marks for being a really good handling FWD car, but that doesn't mean that it handles better than an AWD car. had they put an AWD system in it like in the MS6 it would be in line with the WRX. comparing the two now is impossible. also, the MS3's interior was not a perfect 10 either (see Lyn Vogel's review). for my money, the WRX is the best option. i'll pick one up used (1yr. / 10K miles or so) for a little less and do some additions to bring out the best in it. i can't wait. by the way, when it comes to stars i get the feeling that the rating is not an objective scale applicable across the board (hence comparing the 3 star WRX to other 3 star cars is not a good idea). i get the feeling the star rating more accurately depicts how well the car met the reviewers expectations / preconcieved notions of what it should have been. this WRX is not quite what we think WRXs should be = 3 stars. but i doubt you could justify the rating if these same attributes were found on a honda, toyota, nissan, or mazda.

  • ToolGuy Here is an interesting graphic, if you're into that sort of thing.
  • ToolGuy Nice website you got there (even the glitches have glitches)
  • Namesakeone Actually, per the IIHS ratings, "Acceptable" is second best, not second worst. The ratings are "Good," "Acceptable," "Marginal" and "Poor."
  • Inside Looking Out "And safety was enhanced generally via new reversing lamps and turn signals fitted as standard equipment."Did not get it, turn signals were optional in 1954?
  • Lorenzo As long as Grenadier is just a name, and it doesn't actually grenade like Chrysler UltraDrive transmissions. Still, how big is the market for grossly overpriced vehicles? A name like INEOS doesn't have the snobbobile cachet yet. The bulk of the auto market is people who need a reliable, economical car to get to work, and they're not going to pay these prices.